I’m so damned sick of all this living in the now nonsense.
And I’m not alone. Health organisations all over the world have declared a philosophical pandemic. The cause of this catastrophe is an insidious conceptual contagion that’s turning the woke world into hordes of mindless zombies.
The question is, how can we survive this vacuous apocalypse?
The best way to challenge an idea is with another idea. “Living in the now” is an idea unaccustomed to being challenged, at all, which is why it has spread like a mutating virus across the globe with impunity.
But Mother Nature has a contingency for such global disasters—biodiversity. There are some sapien minds in the human gene pool with a naturally adapted immunity. Albert Einstein had one of those sapien minds, and he also had one or two sapient ideas about time.
Perhaps his most elegant idea was that space and time do not exist separately, but rather in unison. He called it, “space-time.”
He compared space-time to a fabric, like a ream of silk, that when stretched out suspends objects, like our planet, in four dimensions: length, breadth, depth, and of course, time.
Visualize the heaviness of a massive object—like Earth—causing an indentation in the fabric of space-time. It’s that indentation that is the cause of the force we call gravity—pulling smaller objects toward the centre of that dip in the cosmic fabric.
Long before the proverbial apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head, the earth fell, like strange fruit, on God’s head, who was asleep under the tree of knowledge at the time. Apparently this was the first time the phrase, “F*ck the present moment!” was ever uttered.
For the sake of analogy, let’s turn Albert’s space-time continuum into Arun’s river of time.
Imagine a river: its origin at the mountain spring is the past, the river itself is the present, and the estuary where it meets the ocean is the future. While you travel on your sailboat along that river of time, you are told repeatedly by other well-meaning but misguided sailors to forget the past and the future and to limit your attention only to the present moment. What self-respecting navigator would do that?
Now, imagine you transcend your sailboat and become one of the long-winged birds that are following you. Imagine soaring high up into the sky to a whole new perspective: your higher self.
From your new overview, you can see the entire river, the past, present, and future, all flowing—inseparably—as one continuous stream. You can see that all three aspects of time are happening simultaneously—now.
That is what “the now” really means. How is it that such a beautiful and subtle expression of reality has been dumbed down to a one-dimensional soundbite?
In typical Western fashion, we’ve packaged time into boxes instead of just letting it flow. Thinking outside of the box is so much easier when there is no box to begin with.
Concerning his concept of reality, Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” So this is how he explained the space-time continuum:
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
A simple message of balance.
As so often happens with social media, a great wisdom like this is hacked to pieces, cut and pasted, and co-opted for the exact opposite intention. You’ll see the corruption of Einstein’s words, “Live for today,” as a mindless motto printed on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers, posted and reposted online, and hear it sung in derivative pop songs hundreds of times a day.
Einstein’s advice to “not stop questioning,” seems to have been airbrushed out of our collective consciousness, along with the essential cause and effect context of past and future.
My profession, yoga, is especially culpable for perpetuating the present moment myth. When a bendy and beaded yoga teacher tells their class to be in the present moment, most students just obey without question.
But yoga has nothing in common with this New Age concept of “the now.” The ancient yogis saw the natural flow of time just like Einstein. Why would anyone want to put time in a box?
Like a river—like your heart—your mind is designed to move. The intention of yoga is not to still the mind, that would be no more useful than stilling the heart. The intention of yoga is to calm the mind, and so to calm the heart. To be in peace rather than be in literal stillness.
One of the best ways to achieve this so-called “stillness” is, ironically, to focus on something moving: the breath. In meditation, each time the mind loses focus it is brought back to the breath. Eventually, the mind remains focused and reflects the peacefulness of the surrendered breath.
So it is the mind that becomes utterly tranquil, like an undisturbed lake. Is the lake still? No, it’s just very peaceful. The past, present, and future are recognised in union—the eternal moment that is called om.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras defines this unwavering focus of the mind as yogas chitta vritti nirodha—meaning yoga is to cease the fluctuations of the mind.
Sadly, Patanjali’s “yoga bible” is only superficially studied among many modern yoga teachers. Instead, New Age counterfeits are desiccated into easy to digest soundbites, then passed off as equivalent ancient wisdom. Is it complacency or conditioning, or a bad marriage of both?
Don’t just take my word for this philosophical fraud. The Buddha—a genuine spiritual rebel of his time—was well aware of our human tendency to attach to one aspect of time or another. His prevention, and cure, was this teaching:
“Let go of the past,
Let go of the future,
Let go of the present.
Proceed to the opposite shore with a free mind,
Leaving behind all conditioned things,
You shall no longer fall into birth and suffering.”
~ The Dhammapada, verse 348
A similar message to Einstein’s: balance.
The “opposite shore” is the changed perspective of a “free mind,” like the changed perspective of the long-winged bird of the higher self.
These teachings are not complex, they are easy, elegant, and profound. Why are they not being taught?
The answer, I believe, is simply because balance is not culturally in vogue—spiritually, socially, or politically. We live in an age of the extreme.
Like Einstein, fake quotes of the Buddha abound in social media. You will often see this corruption of the Buddha’s teaching, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dwell in the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Only the Buddha didn’t say it at all. Some New Age guru groping in the dark for gravitas said it, and dishonestly ascribed it to the great sage.
A particularly sinister aspect of the present moment myth is that the past is often demonised as a dark and unfriendly place, a dangerous place where only suffering and pain await us.
It is not uncommon to hear present moment devotees reprimanding themselves and each other just for mentioning the past or the future in conversation, like some kind of drab New Age derivative of Roman Catholic guilt.
When followers of the New Age religion attempt to lay this guilt-trip on me, I gently resist with the common sense and balanced teachings of the Buddha, Patanjali, and Einstein.
After juicy, existential discussions, my spiritual inquisitors often come to a shocked realisation—that for years they’ve been duped by a band of unquestioned mentalists, who have relentlessly told them that the past is gone and the tomorrow never comes.
Their accomplices are an unquestioning gaggle of gormless goddesses that treat us like children with a birthday every day: “Our favourite box is the one that contains the present and that’s why the present is a gift!”
But what is the alternative for this one-dimensional edict, and the busy, imbalanced, multitasking mind it is meant to remedy?
Is it another mindset of imbalance that prejudicially excludes the past and the future? I don’t believe so. It is instead a mindset that includes all aspects of time in a harmonious and holistic state of being.
The alternative is mindfulness, an awareness that appreciates, intuitively and intellectually, when it is appropriate to draw on past experiences that in turn help us focus on a present circumstance, and consequently plan effectively for the future. The basic premise of karma.
Karma means action, of thought, word, and deed. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us, “Yoga is skill in action.” Meaning, yoga is not essentially about standing on our heads—any clown can do that. The physicality of yoga is a metaphor for turning our conditioned perspectives upside down, and acting in life with skill—in every moment.
5 Minute Daily Meditation for The Busy Mind
Sit quietly on a cushion at home, or go into nature and find a quiet space, perhaps under a tree. Sit up straight, cross your legs, and relax. Focus your mind on your breath. Allow your breath to come and go, without any assistance, without any resistance. Do not try to breathe deeply. Just let go. There is no control.
At the end of each breathe allow a natural pause, for a second or two. During that moment of stillness just wait, patiently. Enjoy the nothingness. When your next breath begins, spontaneously, let it flow. If your mind loses concentration, bring it back to focusing on the breath, again and again. Eventually your mind will become calm and concentrated. Surrender.
You are a long-winged bird, flying high and free above the river of time. Watch the past, the present, and future just flowing, it’s all happening—effortlessly—now.